The currently untitled PC game is a 4X turn based fantasy strategy game where you have to grow an empire by capturing nearby territories and competing against rival factions. You can hire wizards to lead your armies and capture territories. Each territory provides resources and mana sources for your wizards, so it's "good" to capture and hold on to as much as you can. When you capture a province, your wizard army goes into battle, the game switches into a real time strategy map. You wizard and starting troops can be placed on the battlefield, then the battle commences. You can maneuver units around, change their formations, and attack the enemy troops. The battle ends when either wizard dies, or if the opposing side doesn't have a wizard, when all of their defending troops are dead. During this time, your wizard can cast spells in battle. The spell casting system is similar to Magic: the Gathering, where your controlled territories determine what mana types you get to use in battle. When the battle is over, the winner gets the territory. If you lose your capitol at any time, you lose the game.
Dan and I have been pretty busy creating the mage game in Unreal Engine 4. In early December, we made the engine switch over. Unreal Engine has a somewhat steep learning curve, so it took both of us about 3 months to really get proficient at it. I'm still learning a lot of bits and pieces every day, but I feel quite comfortable with it now. I'm about half way done building the strategy level game mechanics, but there's still a ton of work to do. I haven't even started on the AI yet, nor have I even touched sound and music. I'm trying to keep the game play features quite simplistic for the time being. It's better to deliver a finished and polished product than to ship a half finished but complicated game (if you can even finish it!). I'm not spending a lot of effort on aesthetics at this moment in the production process, just trying to get it all working correctly internally. Once we get the core game play loop completed, we can go into polish mode Unfortunately, that usually means I can't post visually appealing screen shots of game play... yet. In the next update, I think I'll be able to put up a video demo of rudimentary game play.
Business and Finance:
Not much has changed here. I have less money than what I started with and I'm going to have even less by the time I'm finished. I've realized that it's very unlikely that I'll be able to completely finance this game entirely from my own savings and be able to ship a game which is commercially viable. Therefore, I'm looking for funding.
Here's my plan for that:
Get the game closer to a finished project with my remaining finances. The closer we can get the game to release, the easier the funding pitch becomes (and gives us more legitimacy & credibility).
Option A: Pitch the game project to investors and venture capitalists. Risk: They will certainly want a significant portion of our profits, if we release (no problem, that's how investing works), or they may be motivated to sell our team to another company. Entrepreneurship is "institution building", so I have to be careful that our investment partners are helping us build up instead of tearing it down for a quick profit.
Option B: Launch a kick starter campaign to raise funding. Risk: The kick starter platform is probably nearing a saturation point with game projects. I'd just be "yet another game...". It's also an all or nothing form of financing, where if you don't reach your goal, you get nothing.
Option C: Patreon. I launched a patreon campaign a week ago. I still have zero patrons. I'm guessing that creating a good patreon project page is just not enough. In order for this to work, I'd have to reach out to the internet and post a link to it all over the place -- in other words, I have to market it.
Option D: Epic grant. I can get up to $50k from Epic if I submit my project to them for consideration. The game project must be "awesome", so I'm thinking that means it needs to be pretty visually appealing and close to completion. If I don't get that far, our project will be passed over and we get nothing. In fact, I think Epic is probably pretty slammed with grant requests, so it would be tough to get a grant. Not to mention, we get up to $50k, so it's much more likely that we'd get much less. If anything, it would be enough to give us a little bit of an extra push (which helps!). I'll certainly try for this when we get there though.
Option E: Take out a loan. It's an option, but a highly unlikely one at that due to the potential risks.
Option F: Talk to a publisher. I suppose this is very similar to talking to investors, but they'd be a slightly more involved stakeholder who would be able to help us with things we're not so good at... like marketing!
I am also getting involved with the local entrepreneurship scene. In the first week of April, I will be giving a 5 minute talk on our project to a 20 person panel of anonymous business people, getting some critiques and feedback, and possibly opening up some avenues for funding and investment. It's scary and exciting at the same time, and may be the first of many pitches I have to make to rich people. We have a good team, a good production plan, a decent business plan, a clear vision, and very little overhead costs, so I have a good feeling that we can do this.
I know very little about marketing, but the plan is to make a sexy game, create an awesome teaser video, post the game on Steam, try to get featured, and see if we can get people to start talking about our game. Really though, most of my plan revolves around creating such a high quality game that the game will pretty much sell itself.
So, GDC happened last month. I didn't go, but it was a pretty big deal. Even up here in Seattle, we could feel the excitement surrounding the new virtual reality tech being unveiled. I really, really want to create a VR version of our game and integrate it with Leap Motion. I mean, we have the capability to offer a super compelling immersive experience which hasn't really been possible until recently. You are a freakin' WIZARD who can cast spells and are in the thick of a battle. Rather than clicking on a button or some other UI widget to cast a spell, you wave your hands around to trace out a spell rune. BAM! you just summoned some storm clouds which gather in an ominous stack of foreboding doom, and within a few minutes, you've got a massive hurricane experience all around you. It's like, you are Gandalf. How compelling would that be?! If we can pull this off, the game would sell itself and people would buy VR headsets as a means to play our game. We'd be at the forefront. Of course, all of this comes with some technical and design challenges, so in order to really deliver this right, we'd need funding... I can dream though, right?
Our friends upstairs are also pivoting on their HTML5 game. It's supposed to be their last major pivot before release. They're also moving to a bigger office because they're getting kicked out of their current one (building manager wants to tear down the wall to expand an adjacent office). They recently got a bit of funding, so that gives them some breathing room to continue crunching on their project before being put out on the streets.
I went to a few local meet ups for Unreal Engine 4 and got to meet a bunch of other developers and hopeful developers. I tried to show our project at the last one, but I found out that I had lost a bunch of updates which I thought I had pushed out to our Perforce version control system. I mistakenly did a "sync" which caused some of the outdated files to overwrite my current files, which caused my attempted demo to be pitifully outdated and pathetic. Whoops! Since then, I have decided to perform a backup of my entire project before committing it to our version system.
In October, I broke up with my girlfriend. I slept on her couch for about a week or two before finding a new place to live. I moved to a studio apartment which is closer to my office, so I can now walk to work (I pass by PopCap games on my walk every morning). It was a bit of a rough time for me personally. I figured the best thing to do is just throw myself into work since I had nothing better to do and it is super important for me to see this project through to the end. Some days, I would work until midnight. I would also work weekends, so I could be easily putting in 60-80 hours a week. If this project fails, I'll be out of money and out of a living place, so it's pretty damned dire that I don't let it fail. That makes me feel like I really need to be working my ass off to avoid that potential catastrophe. Thankfully, I'm also a pretty even keeled personality, so I feel less stress than the normal person in my situation would.
A few weeks ago, I started dating an amazing woman who is also an entrepreneur. She has multiple businesses and mostly focuses on marketing and advertising, produces infomercials, and invents products you've probably heard of. Aside from being an amazing person who is very supportive and understanding of what I'm doing, she's also a treasure trove of business insight and connections. I really think she's going to have a significant impact on the success of our project.
I recently finished reading Malcolm Gladwells book, "Outliers", and one point which really sticks with me is the paraphrased quote "Nobody who is successful does so alone." I'll take all the help I can get Being a lone wolf is a crucially fatal mistake, and should be recognized as such rather than as a badge of pride as the highly individualistic American culture makes it out to be.